Gambia – Family holiday guide

But those practical details aren’t the only reason this little West African gem works so well for family holidays. Beautiful Atlantic beaches and a tropical climate with average year-round temperatures of 30˚C are hugely appealing. Then there are all the colourful towns, traditional villages and the wonderfully wild and accessible interior. But, for most visitors, it’s the easy, friendly charm of The Gambian people and their rich, fascinating culture that’s the biggest attraction of all.

Why go on holiday in Gambia

  • Direct flights from UK to Banjul year-round. Flying time 6 hours 30 minutes.

  • Same time zone as UK, no jet lag and English is first language.

  • Africa’s smallest mainland country, nicknamed ‘the smiling coast’

  • Sub-tropical climate with average temperatures of 25 to 27˚C year round.

  • Warmest and driest between November and March, good for winter sun.

  • Gambia has two UNESCO World Heritage sites: Kunta Kinteh Island and the Stone Circles of Senegambia.

  • Several UK tour operators support environmental and community conservation through tourism in The Gambia.



Where to go

The Gambia’s just slightly larger than Jamaica and most of the country’s resorts are on the Atlantic west coast. Arranging day trips or longer stays in the interior is very doable from a beach base and a growing number of UK travel companies have a choice of multi-centre holidays in The Gambia tailored for families with older kids and teenagers.

Banjul

The smallest capital in Africa, Banjul is more of a busy town than a city. Most visitors arrive at the airport here and travel the few kilometres west to coastal resorts like Kololi, Koto, Cape Point and Brufut. But Banjul’s easy to get around and a must-do for chaotic and brilliant Albert Market in the centre.

Kololi

This is the main tourist town on The Gambia’s Atlantic coast with a number of mid-range and luxury beach resorts and lively nightlife on The Strip. Good for restaurants, shopping and cultural events but not the best area to stay in with younger kids.

  • Don’t miss: Senegambia Craft Market, Bijilo Forest Park, Monkey Park, Kololi Village art tours, fresh juice beach bars and Horseshoe shopping mall.

Kotu

Just five minutes east of Kololi, Kotu is a popular area for families with several lovely beaches and lush, green scenery around the conservation area of Kotu Stream.

  • Good for four and five star resort hotels with water sports and kids’ clubs.
  • Kombo, Bungalow, Bakotu and Sunset Beaches are all in the Kotu area.
  • The local craft market’s famous for traditional wood carvings and batik textiles.
  • Kotu Stream conservation area is home to over 100 bird species and has daily guided tours.

Bakau and Cape Point

With its crisscross network of little dirt tracks, huge fish market and relentless hustle and bustle, Bakau can be a bit hectic at times, especially for younger kids. Get used to the noise, crowds and random driving style and it’s great fun for a quick morning visit on your way to the gorgeous beaches at Cape Point.

  • Visit for the local markets, Kachikally Crocodile Pool, authentic Gambian street food and the dramatic cliff trimmed coastline.
  • Cape Point has one of The Gambia’s loveliest and longest beaches. A good choice for all-inclusive resorts and much quieter and more relaxed than Kololi.

Brufut

The stretch of coast between Kololi and Tanji Village is one of The Gambia’s most exclusive residential districts and home to a number of excellent resort hotels, holiday villa developments and gated communities.

  • Peaceful coastline with tropical beaches, safe swimming waters and several international resorts and boutique oceanfront hotels.
  • Close to Bijilo Forest Park and Tanji Bird Reserve, under an hour from Fathala Game Park on the Senegal border.

What to do

  • Albert Market, Banjul
    The daily market in the centre of Banjul is sprawling, vivid and exciting. Everything from fruit and vegetables to local crafts, textiles, clothes, shoes and ‘stuff’ is for sale here. Put aside at least two hours for a real root around. Bartering’s expected and the market’s chop-shops and fresh juice stalls are a bit of a legend.
  • Kachikally Crocodile Pool & Museum, Bakau
    Crocodiles are Gambian symbols of fertility and women trying to conceive bathe and pray at this sacred site – the number of Gambian kids called ‘Kachikally’ are testimony to the pool’s powers. It’s a popular attraction with visitors too, but mainly for the 78 (almost tame) Nile Crocodiles and the museum of musical instruments.
  • Gambia River National Park
    A guided boat safari in Gambia River National Park’s a rare chance to see endangered hippos and less threatened Green Vervet monkeys, Guinea baboons, aardvark, bushbuck and dozens of amazing bird species.
  • Tanji Fishing Village
    Visit Tanji in the afternoon as the fishing pirogues return to shore and women form long lines on the beach to pass the day’s catch up to the local Bonga smoke-houses. It’s loud, messy, gregarious and an astonishing spectacle to watch. The village is less than an hour’s drive south of Banjul.
  • Bijilo Forest Park, Kololi
    This 51ha park is close to the beach resorts in the south of Kololi and a protected environment for several monkey species including the endangered Green Monkey.
  • Kunta Kinteh Island, from Albreda
    First discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, this tiny island has been part of Germany’s medieval Hanseatic League, a 17th century British slaving station (the first British colony in Africa), an 18th century French slaving post and a focal point for British abolitionists in the mid-19th century. It’s now a World Heritage site and part of a poignant and fascinating tour which includes the historic village of Juffure.
  • Makasutu Cultural Forest, Mandina Bolong
    Award winning Makasutu is a must-do visit in The Gambia. The protected forests was first established as a conservation area in 1992 and has close ties to the UK’s Eden Project. A day’s expedition is an unforgettable experience. The forest also has a variety of stunning eco-lodges on the River Gambia.
  • Fathala Game Park, Senegal
    Just 12km over The Gambia/Senegal border, a jeep safari in Fathala Game Park is an opportunity for close encounters with zebra, rhinoceros, buffalo, giraffes, monkeys and many other wild, West African native species.
  • Tanji Village Museum
    The Gambia’s first privately owned museum is more like a small heritage village. Friendly, hands-on and great fun for older kids.
  • Tanji Bird Reserve
    Half-an-hour from Kololi, this 612ha protected reserve is home to over 259 species of birds.


Educational value for kids

  • Music and dancing play an important role in Gambian life and almost everything from wrestling bouts to local football matches involves traditional performance too.
  • Go on a ‘catch and release’ creek fishing day from Denton Bridge in Gambian pirogues.
  • Spend the day at Ya Boye home cooking centre in Tanji village, go shopping in the local market for ingredients and learn to cook a traditional Gambian meal.
  • Spend an afternoon in bustling Serrekunda and drop in on the local Batik and Tie-Dye factory.
  • Browse the National Museum of Banjul to find out more about the customs, culture and chequered history of The Gambia.
  • Visit Fort Bullen and discover the story of 19th British abolitionism in The Gambia.
  • Find out about mini-tours to local schools, football training, village workshops, gardens and farms – operators like The Gambian Experience support community conservation through tourism.

 


 

Getting around with kids in Gambia

The Gambia is surprisingly accessible and exploring beyond the coast into the remarkable interior’s a great adventure. But, car hire’s expensive and the country’s road network isn’t great. The best way to get around with kids is to book mini-tours, cruises and expeditions with recommended local or UK operators. Alternatively, almost all resorts can arrange private jeep and driver hire for families – much more cost-effective and less stressful than self-drive.



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